Back to the Future is an American cinematic classic. The story of Marty McFly traveling through time to the year 1955 (and then into the future) in a tricked out DeLorean time machine has got everything: cool sci-fi premise, great acting by Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd and a sense of wonder that we’ve come to expect from movies written and directed by Robert Zemeckis. As Marty evades resident high school asshole Biff and his gang while seeking to empower his awkward wallflower of a (future dad) George McFly, he learns a lot about himself. Here are five professional lessons from Back to the Future.
Stand up for yourself
Self-confidence is a recurring theme throughout Back to the Future – particularly for Marty’s (future) father George McFly. Harassed and belittled by high school bully Biff, it quickly becomes clear that George’s main problem is that he won’t stand up for himself. Plus he seems embarrassed about embracing the nerd in him. Unlike the nerds in Stranger Things, George doesn’t seem to have many friends who share his love of sci-fi comic books. One of the film’s central tensions is whether George will ever stand up for himself. Whether it’s in your workplace or at school, it’s important to embrace who you are and stand up for yourself. Are you a yoga loving history buff? Seek out people that affirm and engage you in these interest areas. Lover ridingsegue waysand reading Japanese manga? Don’t try to hide it. Embrace who you are and if you get crap for it, don’t be afraid to push back. If you aren’t being true to yourself, you’ll end up getting walked over like George McFly.
Test and learn
Doc and Marty both have to utilize creativity throughout the film to accomplish their mission – sending Marty back to the future. On Marty’s end, this looks like co-opting later sci-fi hits like Star Wars and Star Trek (“I am Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan”) to convince his wallflower father to ask out his mother. Later in the film, Doc creates a prototype of a large electric shock from a bolt of lightning to power the plutonium fueled reactor of Marty’s time machine. Both of these solutions to problems are highly creative and got perfected an approach of testing and learning. Chances are you’ll come across a problem or two that are intractable. Don’t give up. Go for a walk, grab a coffee or do something that stimulates your creative juices (John likes to journal) and try brainstorming all the weird ways you might be able to solve your problem. Try them out and see what happens. Get your friends or colleagues involved. Channel your creativity and that of your community’s and come up a solution that is less ordinary.
Marty’s (future) mother Lorraine has a crush on him. Instead of lollygagging around like George, she seizes the day and tries to actively seduce Marty. It’s an awkward and hilarious moment, but one which you can’t help respect for Lorraine’s directness and her drive to get what she wants. Lorraine’s behavior contrasts starkly with George’s decisions. In the workplace or at home, being direct about what you want and why you want it is valuable.
Stick to your vision
Doc Brown had a whole string of failures before he finally invented something that worked (the Flux capacitor). Indeed, in his first meeting with Marty in 1955, he comes to the crashing realization that his mind reading device (into which he’s sunk countless hours of time and a great deal of money) doesn’t work at all. Doc feels like a failure. But despite this frustration, he rallies (partly as a result of Marty’s presence affirming that his future invention works). We don’t all have someone from the future coming back to tell us our idea will work out, but we can look long term when struggling with a short term issue. One tactic I frequently use is considering whether an issue will actually be something I even remember a year or two into the future. Usually, it’s not and that alone can bring down the stress connected to the current challenge. Channel some Doc Brown the next time your idea, project or invention fails. Failing is seen by many as one of the instructive lessons for people. See your failure as a learning opportunity. Reflect on it and move forward towards the end result.
Know your triggers
Marty is triggered throughout the Back to the Future franchise by being called “chicken”. When it happens, he loses control of himself and dives headlong into the challenge, no matter how stupid it is. The results can be dire to his future well-being. A central tension throughout the Back to the Future franchise is Marty’s struggle to overcome this shortcoming. The first step to dealing with your own triggers is to recognize them. Taking a deep breath and giving yourself space and time to simmer down and make an informed, as opposed to an emotional, decision is the next step. Try to consciously drop the emotional baggage that comes with your trigger and dispassionately evaluate the issue. Sometimes I channel Star Trek’s Data (an Android incapable of emotion) when doing this.